Banksy in Reading: Why it is vital for the town

By Becky Whittaker

A Banksy mural appeared on the side of Reading prison in February and everyone in the town was thrilled. A famous artist had made his cultural mark in Reading of all places.

Hordes of people gathered on the footpath and cars crawled past to snap the miracle artwork that brought Reading into the spotlight for culture.

Normally, the only culture that attracts people to the town is the festival which sees a swarm of tie dye teens just out of exams and ready to enjoy themselves with a beer in a muddy field.

However, the ‘escape’ mural which illustrates an inmate making his escape over the prison wall using a twisted spool of paper from a typewriter grabbed the publics’ attention.

The mural is thought to pay tribute to literary success Oscar Wilde, who served two years’ hard labour after being convicted of “committing acts of gross indecency” in 1895. His time in the prison inspired him to write The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

Since the initial hype of the mural, it has been defaced. The type writer had been covered in red paint with the phrase “Team Robbo” below.

The tag is thought to be a reference to rival graffiti artist King Robbo who died in 2014. The rivalling artist was in feud with Banksy since 2009 when Banksy painted over one of King Robbo’s pieces by Regent’s Canal in Camden, north London.

Save Reading Gaol, a campaign to turn the former prison into an arts and culture hub, announced their devastation and tweeted: “Awful news to wake up to and to realise that the failure to protect something precious to the town has left it vulnerable to destruction.”

Growing up in Reading although I loved the arts and dabbling in a bit of showing off on stage, there was a limited amount available. Despite this, my parents took me to almost every cultural event that happened in the town. Plays at the Hexagon, days out to the Reading museum, comedy at South Street and art exhibitions at the university to name a few.

The legacy of Oscar Wilde is one to be celebrated and the former prison should be transformed into an arts hub to give everyone access the creativity. The campaign has won the support of the actors Stephen Fry, Dame Judi Dench, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Natalie Dormer and Kate Winslet.

Reading borough council is set to submit a bid for the site to the Ministry of Justice. It is feared that if the bid is unsuccessful, the Grade-II listed site could fall into the hands of property developers as the prison is in a fine location for commuters.

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